Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why the West and Japan should stop preaching to a rising China

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Jean-Pierre Lehmann

Jean-Pierre Lehmann says the imperialist powers of old should acknowledge their own bloody history of plunder and exploitation, and work with Beijing to find a path to a peaceful rise, which so far is unprecedented

This year marks the anniversaries of a number of Asian historical landmarks. July 1 was the 20th anniversary of the handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the UK to China. August 8 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Asean declaration, the founding document of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This Friday, July 7, marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China, triggering the Pacific war that lasted until Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945.

July 7 should be a day for reflection. Such was the case on June 6 three years ago, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, when the French president François Hollande hosted, among others, US president Barack Obama, Britain’s David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. This was one further indication that, while there are tensions in the Atlantic, the breakout of war, as occurred twice last century, is extremely unlikely.

Over the decades since the end of the second world war, there has been a great deal of dialogue, confidence-building and the establishment of solid institutions. Germany, for all the atrocities it committed, has been an exemplary European citizen and is arguably the Atlantic’s greatest guarantor of peace, just as it has proffered unconditional apologies.

Just as Germany has been the solution for peace in the Atlantic, Japan remains a critical problem for peace in the Pacific. In light of the composition and conduct of the Japanese government – with, inter alia, the Defence Minister Tomomi Inada paying regular visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a sort of mausoleum for Japanese war criminals – it is highly unlikely that there will be reflection, let alone apology.

The Pacific war and its many ramifications tend to be ignored in Japanese education and public discourse generally. July 7 will not be marked by public forums among Japanese leaders, let alone with their Chinese, Korean, Singaporean or Filipino counterparts.

Instead, we hear of Japanese kindergartens spreading anti-Chinese and anti-Korean xenophobic messages and hotel chain proprietors (Toshio Motoya of APA) distributing in all rooms copies of his writings in which he denies the Nanking massacre occurred and claims that the Korean “comfort women” were not sexual slaves but prostitutes.

But the lessons from July 7, 1937 extend beyond Japan. The 21st century is witnessing the rise of another great global power: China. Though there has been a good deal of debate among Chinese intellectuals on the implications of great power rise, illustrated in the seminal 2005 article by Zheng Bijian (鄭必堅), “China’s Peaceful Rise to Great Power Status”, there has been little reflection among the other great powers on how they might contribute.

If one looks at, for example, the current membership of the G7, all the countries, with the sole exception of Canada, achieved great power status through war, conquest, plunder, imperialism, exploitation, enslavement, and so on. Thus, while Japan is a major problem for peace in the Pacific, its warmongering corresponded to a pattern set by other G7 members, including the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy – and indeed by others including the Netherlands, Belgium and Russia.

While it has become seemingly pervasive for the Western powers and Japan to mount their high moral horses and admonish China that it should “play by the rules”, they fail to explain why at the time of their rise to great power there were no rules or, if there were, they were egregiously flouted.

Thus, the eloquent 1839 letter by the Canton commissioner Lin Zexu (林則徐) to Queen Victoria, imploring her to stop her subjects from forcefully infesting China with opium, was contemptuously ignored. Throughout the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, the “great” powers plundered the planet, including of course China. What rules were the British and French playing by as they pillaged the Beijing Summer Palace in 1860?

Nor is the behaviour of the Western powers just ancient history. American atrocities perpetrated against Vietnamese and Laotians continued into the third quarter of last century. As depicted in the excellent book by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, in fact the US has been pretty much continuously at war throughout the second half of the 20th century and most recently in the 21st, with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

One of the most compelling recent publications on the rise of China is by Geoff Dyer, The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China, in which he draws compelling parallels between the rise of the US as a great power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – manifest destiny, the Spanish-American war of 1898-99, resulting in the colonisation of the Philippines, and so on – and the rise of China in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine, seeking to establish a US exclusive sphere of influence over Latin American, ultimately came to concrete fruition a few decades later with, among other things, the metamorphosis of the Caribbean as an “American lake”. This, Dyer suggests, is comparable to what China is aiming to do vis-à-vis Southeast Asia generally and the South China Sea [9] in particular – that is, that it should become a Chinese lake.

The argument that these were different times with different parameters does not wash. The main difference from a Chinese viewpoint was that, whereas then the Western powers and Japan were extremely strong and China was extremely weak, today, the Western powers, the US in particular, remain strong while China is no longer weak. Thus, in seeking to draw inspiration from the methods and achievements of great powers rising, what models are there other than the Western and Japanese imperialist nations? There is no precedent for peaceful rise.

This should not, of course, imply that while previous great powers looted and engaged in outrageous brutality, it is now “China’s turn”. But it strongly suggests that serious and honest reflection is called for, not only on the part of the Japanese, but also on the part of the other great powers, and on that basis to engage in genuine dialogue – not sermons – with China. Instead of getting on their moral high horses, sermonising from the alleged position of liberal values, far more constructive would be to admit – and eventually apologise – that in fact they behaved often abominably, feeling bound by no rules except that might is right.

This would seem the only viable means to engage China in its rise to great power, to contribute constructively to the unprecedented peaceful rise, and thereby to have some hope that peace may reign. Finally, after centuries of warfare, one could hope that great power bellicose rivalry might be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is emeritus professor at IMD, founder of The Evian Group, and visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong

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脫貧路漫長 高教縮差距








成立於1916年,總部位於華盛頓特區智庫布魯金斯研究所(Brookings Institution)是華盛頓學術界的主流思想庫之一,他們曾經就教育是否能夠改變美國貧窮家庭的政經地位進行《向前還是落後:在美國改變人生的機會》(Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Mobility in America)的研究。研究結果發現,貧窮家庭子女的政經地位沒有顯著的改變,其研究結果與剛才提到的香港教育大學的結論頗具類近性;原來海外社區都出現了富裕家庭子女在接受高等教育方面的機會及選擇權,相對於貧窮家庭存在愈來愈大的差距。


其實年輕人對求學充滿熱忱是一個值得慶幸的事情, 只是高等教育學額數目的增長,似乎未能及時追上高等教育學額的需求,再加上不同的社會問題,諸如樓價高企令年輕人走上街頭抗爭。比方說,以往面對樓價的飛升,年輕人或許只有「買不起就算了」的心態。可惜的是,單純以樓價的瘋狂發展而言,已經不只「買不起」,而是「租也租不到」,因而怨氣日深。







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Having a helper leaves Hong Kong’s young lazy and spoilt

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Peter Kammerer

Peter Kammerer says depending on helpers for daily living well into adulthood renders Hongkongers averse to hardship, unable to think for themselves and lacking basic life skills

The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China raised all sorts of issues, among them whether our city has lost its edge. The conclusion seems to be yes – that we’re gradually falling behind competitors in virtually every area.

There was even a suggestion that our famed entrepreneurial spirit was disappearing, and questions were asked as to why. It’s a complicated subject with rent, education and parental ambitions for children at play, but I’d also wager that part of the problem is because we have too many maids.

Foreign domestic helpers aren’t to blame for the decline of shipping, universities slipping down rankings and Shenzhen lording it over us with innovations and hi-tech industries.

But my argument is less about advantage than laziness. Rather than coming up with solutions to our problems, we’re increasingly expecting others to fix them for us. Younger generations, like the millennials, appear to want everything laid out for them, from cheap housing to the best jobs – all for minimal effort.

It’s easy to see why people aged between 18 and their mid-30s would think this way; many had or continue to have maids to take care of them.

Between the end of 1998 and 2015, the year for the latest statistics, the number of foreign domestic helpers almost doubled – from 180,000 to 340,380.

That’s a lot of youngsters who didn’t need to clean up after themselves, had someone cooking for them, getting them ready for and perhaps taking them to school, and to be on hand to cater for their every need.

They were spoilt as kids and many continue that way as adults.

I know of single people who have full-time maids to take care of them and their pets. A couple with a pre-teen son have decided to move back into the wife’s parents’ home while their helper is on vacation because the thought of taking care of the child, cleaning the flat and cooking is too daunting.

Those raised by maids are readily identifiable at the gym I go to; they ignore rules to return used towels to the front counter and instead drop them on the changing room floor.

In the weights area, heavy plates are left either on the floor or attached to bars, rather than being put back in racks, posing a danger to other users. The toilets are left in a mess.

Helpers are an integral part of the Hong Kong government’s growth strategy. They enable both parents to work and provide care for children and the elderly. As a result, their wages are kept artificially low and exempt from minimum wage requirements.

With the typical Hongkonger earning about HK$15,800 a month, many working couples can easily afford the HK$4,310 salary.

But the influx of maids, at present increasing annually by about 10,000, has a litany of drawbacks.

The government is not under pressure to expand or improve child and elderly care services. Helpers may not be adequately trained to take care of a wheelchair-bound or bedridden person.

Sundays are a popular day for employers to give their maids their weekly day off, which means public places are overcrowded. And then, there is the reliance of families on their helpers to the point that they no longer have basic life skills.

Lazy people don’t necessarily have lazy minds; studies have found they’re often the intelligent ones and have figured how to get by with minimal effort.

But avoiding hard work and expecting something for nothing doesn’t teach us important lessons like success and failure, and finding solutions to problems.

Helpers free us up from what some people would consider the mundane, but the extra time is only worthwhile if put to constructive use.

Judging by our flat economic growth, reluctance to break away from businesses that are fading, and jump on opportunities offered by the Hong Kong and Beijing governments and take a risk, we’re well on the way to losing the ability to think for ourselves.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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The Asian financial crisis teaches the need for bold reform, but is China listening?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

William Pesek

William Pesek says regional economies that appear to have recovered from the crash are struggling with structural problems and stagnating incomes, as policymakers baulk at needed reforms. Beijing, now facing similar risks, should take note

My favourite Asian crisis story involves Robert Rubin, an elevator and a pile of cash.

It was September 1997, and I’d just exchanged US dollars in our Jakarta hotel lobby. I was taken aback, and vaguely embarrassed, by the huge stack of rupiah I received – all with colourful money wrappers. In the elevator, I ran into then US Treasury secretary Rubin and one of his top lieutenants, Timothy Geithner. I was among a handful of Washington journalists accompanying them around Asia. Rubin looked at my loot and deadpanned: “I see you found time for a drug deal.”

That was 2½ months after Bangkok’s July 2, 1997 devaluation set Asia’s reckoning in motion. The good news, 20 years on, is that the Thai, Indonesian and South Korean currencies recovered and reserves were restocked. Banking systems were strengthened and economies made more transparent. Capital accounts were loosened and market regulation tightened. Wages bounced back, too. The bad news: income gains have largely stalled in recent years. Is the real legacy of that regional crisis a regional middle-income trap?

That’s when per capita income tops out at, or below, the US$10,000 mark, as it has for Thailand (about US$6,000), Indonesia (US$4,000) and even economies that technically avoided the worst of the crisis – including Malaysia and, perhaps, the Philippines. And while South Korea is the top of the income class – and a proud escapee of the middle-income category – it’s since been ensnared in a higher-income net.

What went wrong? In the immediate years after 1997, technocrats in Thailand, Indonesia and Korea implemented the International Monetary Fund’s reform playbook to modernise financial systems. Strong US demand did the rest, enabling Bangkok, Jakarta and Seoul to export their way back to 5 per-cent-plus growth. But the return of rapid gross domestic product growth deadened the urgency to do the real heavy lifting; weaning economies off exports; building credible institutions; increasing productivity and innovation; diversifying trade links; eradicating corruption; devising better energy strategies; and separating the public and private sectors.

Blame the “Cult of GDP”, something to which Asian leaders have long been susceptible. When heady growth returns, policymakers declare victory, pop the champagne corks and shelve painful upgrades. In the two decades since 1997, Asia’s crisis victims revelled in buoyant equity markets, claimed economies had decoupled from the West and toasted the tidal wave of bankers abandoning New York and London and relocating to Hong Kong and Singapore. And besides, China’s boom would keep the good times going. The cost of leaders believing their own press was slower wage gains. Asia is learning the hard way that “boosterism” is no replacement for economic retooling.

A large painting depicting the late Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is seen outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre last month. Thailand has experienced two coups as a succession of leaders failed to spread the benefits of growth. Photo: EPA
A large painting depicting the late Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is seen outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre last month. Thailand has experienced two coups as a succession of leaders failed to spread the benefits of growth. Photo: EPA

Thailand has experienced two coups as a succession of leaders failed to spread the benefits of growth and get the state out of the financial system (it has been in the hands of a military junta since May 2014). Indonesian incomes are stagnating as reform fatigue and parochial squabbles – over everything from access to natural resources to openness to foreign trade and religion – distract Jakarta. Progress stalled in Malaysia as scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak clings to affirmative-action policies benefiting ethnic Malays at the expense of competitiveness. In the Philippines, too, Rodrigo Duterte is putting a bloody war against drug pushers and users ahead of raising Manila’s economic game.

Korea beat the middle-income trap, but it’s now ensnared in a higher-income funk. Seoul’s failure to reduce the role of the family-owned conglomerates towering over all corners of the economy and catalyse a start-up boom has average incomes stuck near US$27,000.

Similar criticism could be hurled at Hong Kong, as it commemorates the 20th anniversary of its return to China. While per capita income is 11 times Indonesia’s, Hong Kong hasn’t expanded its growth engines beyond finance and overpriced property. The cost: exploding inequality that’s delegitimising the city’s Beijing-picked leadership and feeding combustible social tensions.

Bold structural changes are always easier when crashing currencies leave leaders no choice. Unless Asian governments relocate some of that 1997 urgency, they will rely more on debt to fuel growth than entrepreneurship and higher productivity. Little good would come of that. That’s Thailand’s big challenge as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha tries to find his reformist mojo. It’s Joko Widodo’s problem in Jakarta as he struggles to take on vested interests working to regain power over the government. It’s also President Moon Jae-in [4]’s task in Seoul as he deals with a fresh bubble in household debt and rampant corruption.

And what of China? Few questions matter more than whether mainland incomes can reach US$10,000, and beyond. Never before has global stability been so dependent on such an opaque, unbalanced and developing economy. China “definitely has the potential to further catch up with the high-income countries and avoid [getting trapped]”, write Asian Development Bank economists Linda Glawe and Helmut Wagner. “However, the future performance of China’s economy depends on further reforms.” Those changes include altering a debt structure not unlike that of Thailand and other Asian governments, circa 1997.

For most, Asia’s collapse was just as unexpected as Wall Street’s 11 years later. China’s growth engines, it’s worth noting, are tantalisingly familiar: explosions in debt, credit and unproductive investments; chronic overcapacity; quantity of growth trumping quality; a sprawling shadow-banking machine; surging non-performing-loan ratios; policymakers drawing down currency reserves; regulators prodding domestic companies to go public before their time; and complacency among markets about how fast things could go awry. Beijing is treating the symptoms of its excess, not the root causes, in ways that are feeding ever-bigger bubbles. What’s more, US President Donald Trump’s threatened trade war is an ever-present threat to Asia.

Beijing, in other words, must do better than the class of 1997 in learning from past mistakes and preparing for future prosperity. Economic reform, remember, has something in common with the elevator in which I bumped into Rubin 20 years ago: it has the power to lift populations to new heights or leave them on the ground floor. Asia must work harder to ensure incomes regain an upward trajectory.

William Pesek is a Tokyo-based journalist and the author of Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.

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10多年前,我就用過《呂氏春秋》中的「刻舟求劍」比喻來說香港的政治發展:「楚人有涉江者,其劍自舟中墜於水,遽契其舟曰:『是吾劍之所從墜也。』舟止,從其所契者入水求之。舟已行矣,而劍不行, 求劍若此,不亦惑乎?以故法為其國與此同。時已徙矣,而法不徙,以此為治,豈不難哉?」




延伸閱讀:Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity(West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)